This town has been a bitter battleground since, oh, early 1995. And it’s all Newt Gingrich’s fault.
Why? Because he wrote the “Contract with America” and led Republicans to victory behind it. When Gingrich became speaker, it marked the first time the GOP had controlled the House of Representatives in more than 40 years.
That put an end to what some fondly remember as “bipartisanship”: Democrats would run the House and do pretty much whatever they wanted, while Republicans would meekly go along, or battle ineffectually.
Many political reporters pine for those days. “We’ve heard President Bush talk about bipartisanship, a sense of togetherness,” CNN anchor Judy Woodruff observed on July 9. “It frankly isn’t always evident on Capitol Hill. But it was today, at least during a ceremony honoring former House members. As our Bruce Morton explains, it was a flashback to the days when Republicans and Democrats seemed a lot friendlier.”
Morton’s package focused on four retired congressmen, two Democrats and two Republicans. All served at least 30 years in the House, and none knew anything other than a Democratic majority. They were gathered that day to accept the first Congressional Distinguished Service Award.
“Today offered memories of a kinder time,” Morton said as he closed his story. “Of a House that many felt at home in.” “And maybe it will come back,” Woodruff concluded.
Washington Post columnist David Broder thinks he knows how to make that happen. “The implicit message of the ceremony,” he wrote on July 13, “is that Congress is at its best when its members focus on their shared responsibility to the nation, not their partisan power games.”
But single party dominance is not bipartisanship. To say that Democrats gladly worked with Republicans during their decades in power is naive. They ran the House the way they wanted, and passed only the legislation they agreed with. Broder admits as much when he tells the story of longtime House Minority Leader Bob Michel -- the man whose retirement opened the door for Newt Gingrich’s revolution in 1994.
“Michel,” Broder wrote, “recalled that he spent all ‘of my 38 years as a member of the minority party. Oh, those were frustrating years,’ he said to understanding laughter.”
Frustrating? Yes. Healthy for the country? No.
Ironically, even though what reporters call “bipartisanship” gets plenty of good press, many of the laws that get passed because of it are bad laws.